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HEM KUNT SAHIB, GURDWARA SRI

HEM KUNT SAHIB, GURDWARA SRI, lit. Receptacle of Ice, situated in the Himalayas at a height of about 15,210 feet above sea level and located in Chamoli district of Uttar Pradesh, is dedicated to Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh in his autobiographical work, Bachitra Ndtak, has said that before his birth he had been meditating on the Maha Kal (God) at a place which he described as "Hemkunt Parvat adorned with seven peaks where earlier the king Panduraj (a character in the epic Mahdbhdratd) had practised austerities."

The exact spot was not known until Pandit Tara Singh Narotam (1822-91), well known Nirmala scholar, determined its location after referring to the Mahdbhdrata texts (1.119) alluded to in the Bachitra Ndtak. Later Sant Sohan Singh of Tehri Garhval actually surveyed the area and found the place in 1934, and with the financial assistance and encouragement from Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), the Sikh savant, constructed a modest 3metre square shrine in 1936.

After his death on 13 February 1939, Havildar Modan Singh, an exarmy sergeant, served the place with extraordinary devotion for the next 21 years. He not only maintained the shrine at Hemkunt, but also established Gurdwaras Gobind Ghat (height 6,000 feet) and Gobind Dham (height 10,500 feet) to serve as base camps for pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Hem Kunt Sahib. Before his death in December 1960, Havildar Modan Singh also set up Sri Hem Kunt Sahib Management Trust.

The Trust, with headquarters at Kanpur, has also replaced the building at Hem Kunt Sahib with a new and more spacious one, and has also constructed two more gurudwaras along the route one each at Srinagar (Garhval) and Joshi Math and has been running Guru ka Langar and rest camps at all these places for the pilgrims. Gurdwara Hem Kunt Sahib stands on the bank of a sweet water lake (circumference roughly 2.5 km) in a narrow valley surrounded by high mountains capped by seven peaks {saptasrnga}. The place is inaccessible during winter. Even in summer it is visited only during the day, the pilgrims coming back to Gurdwara Gobind Dham because lack of enough oxygen at that height makes an extended stay at the top shrine impossible.

References :

1. Bachitra Ndtak
2. Itihds, Guide... Sri Hemkunt Sahib. Kanpur, 1979

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The etymology of the term 'gurdwara' is from the words 'Gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'Dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the Guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.

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